Journal as a Pedlar, 1789-90

Before the reader enter upon the following sheets, I think it necessary to inform him, that, signifying some time ago to an intimate friend, an intention I had of traversing the eastern parts of Scotland, he entreated me to keep a Journal; which, by way of amusement, and to comply with his request, I did, by committing to paper each night, the most remarkable occurrences of the day, interspersed with such descriptions of places, through which I passed, as the shortness of my stay would allow. On my return, a number of acquaintances having examined the scroll, expressed their approbation of it, and requested me to publish it along with the poetical pieces. With their solicitations I have now ventured to comply, in hopes that the perusal of it may be a relaxation to the reader; and while the novelty of the incidents entertain, the truth of them may perhaps not be uninstructive.

Edinburgh, Sept. 17, 1789.

As youth is the most favourable time to establish a man's good fortune in the world; and as his success in life depends in a great measure, on his prudent endeavours and unwearied perseverance, I have resolved to make one bold push for the united interests of Pack and Poems. Nor can any one justly blame me for it, since experience has now convinced me, that the merit I am possessed of (which is certainly considerable) might lie for ever buried in obscurity, without such an attempt. I have therefore fitted up a proper budget, consisting of silks, muslins, prints, &c., &c., for the accommodation of those good people who may prove my customers, with a sufficient quantity of Proposals for my poetical friends; and to prevent those tedious harangues, which otherwise I would be obliged to deliver at every threshold, I have according to the custom of the more polite pedlars, committed the contents of my Pack to a hand-bill, though in a style somewhat remote from any I have yet seen:—


FAIR Ladies, I pray for one moment to stay,
Until with submission, I tell you,
What muslins so curious, for uses so various,
A Poet has here brought to sell you.

Here's handkerchiefs charming, book-muslin like ermine,
Brocaded, strip'd, corded, and check'd;
Sweet Venus they say, on Cupid's birth-day,
In British-made muslins was deck'd.

If these can't content ye, here's muslins in plenty,
From one shilling up to a dozen;
That Juno might wear, and more beauteous appear,
When she means the old Thund'rer to cozen.

Here are fine jacconets, of numberless sets,
With spotted and sprigged festoons;
And lovely tambours, with elegant flow'rs,
For bonnets, cloaks, aprons, or gowns.

Now, ye Fair, if ye choose any piece to peruse,
With pleasure I'll instantly show it;
If the Pedlar should fail to be favour'd with sale,
Then I hope you'll encourage the Poet.

  SEPT. 18.—Departed from Edinburgh, designing to cross over to Fifeshire; changed my resolutions, and proceeded forward to Musselburgh, beneath a most oppressive load. Arrived at this place late in the evening.—MUSSELBURGH (so called from the vast quantities of mussels that are found along the shore) is a small, though a neat town, six miles east from Edinburgh, stretching along the Frith of Forth, which, at this place, may be ten or twelve miles broad. The streets are wide and well paved; its inhabitants numerous, a great many of whom are butchers, which appears by the numberless carcases of sheep, calves, cows, &c., that are to be seen suspended in rows at almost every door. Edinburgh is their market, to which, every morning, their stores are conveyed. This day saw several troops of dragoons reviewed, which made a formidable appearance, on an extensive level green, that spreads along the shore, where the game of golph is much practised by parties of gentlemen; and is, in my opinion, a more healthy than entertaining amusement.
  SEPT. 19.—I have this day collected a few subscriptions. Encountered in my excursions through the town, with a son of the Muses, who, on looking over the Proposals and specimen, snarled at some expression that displeased him. I, in defence, mentioned a similar phrase which Thomson had used. “Aye, aye,” said he, “Thomson's was poetry, but this is none;” and then, after a little meditation and muttering to himself, he altered the line, which I, to humour him, confessed to be a beautiful amendment. Pleased with this, he set down his own name, and, smiling, said, “D—n me! I'll procure some subscribers for you.” In the course of our conversation, he told me that he had finished several pieces; among the rest, two farces, and an English translation of the 'Gentle Shepherd.' This day an old lady, whom I had importuned in vain to add to the list of subscribers, gave me a solemn advice, that as I was but a young author and unacquainted with the world, not to spend the money I might make, on women and wine. “I am exceedingly obliged to you, Madam,” returned I, “for the advice you are pleased to give me; but if I meet with no better encouragement from the world than I have received from your ladyship, I believe your good counsel will be superfluous.”